Star Trek

Season 3 Episode 1

Spock's Brain

Aired Unknown Sep 20, 1968 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (11)

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out of 10
186 votes
  • Spock's brain is stolen, and Kirk and company try to retrieve it.

    It's the infamous king of the bad TOS episodes, though its faults are so lovable, "Spock's Brain" is more entertaining than "The Alternative Factor", "The Omega Glory", or "And the Children Shall Lead"... even if lacks the poetic title. (Why is it that the same series with titles like "By Any Other Name" and "The Conscience of the King" couldn't come up with something better than "Spock's Brain"? I suppose, however, that the lack of subtlety in the title matches the tone of the episode).

    Written by Gene Coon before he left the series, "Spock's Brain" is so classically bad, there's a persistent rumor that it was written as a comedy before being misinterpreted as a drama. (Coon, who agreed to polish up his work before leaving Star Trek, requested a pseudonym for be used for any of his work that was used in the third season so he wouldn't appear to violate the terms of his exclusive contract with Universal In truth, this episode is a serious attempt to create a science fiction story inspired by the first human heart transplant (performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard on December 3, 1967). There is merit in Coon's story, originally conceived by producer Bob Justman. It's interesting how we create devices that mirror how our brain internally handles our bodies, like air conditioning and heating to regulate temperatures, communication systems to exchange messages, and sensors to gather information. The idea of a human brain used control an entire underground colony is an interesting science fiction extension of a transplant, and offers the main characters with an exciting search.

    The execution of the story, however, is dreadful. To steal the brain, a scantily clad woman flies her spaceship to the Enterprise and uses her magic wristband to subdue the crew. (Why not just have her steal Spock's brain while he's on an away mission, as Coon's early drafts had it?) But Kirk follows her back to the planet, reasoning that if she took it out, she can put it back in. (Wouldn't it be better to chase her down in the name of justice and find out as a surprise that Spock's brain is still active?) Kirk takes Spock's body with, operating it by remote control, and eventually finds the brain he's seeking, which communicates in Leonard Nimoy's voice. (Unfortunately, we never actually get to see the brain, which makes me want my money Fortunately, the planet has a device (also known as a writer's cheat) that helps McCoy (with some advice from his patient) save the day... all without even messing up Spock's hair. (And here's where Star Trek really misses the boat: why not use its own established technology to make this more believable? Kirk could TRANSPORT the brain back into Spock's head and get around having to show the surgery. Heck, to make it more believable, Kirk could even use more sophisticated transporter technology available on the planet they're visiting!)

    It all ends with a joke and some laughter. Yet the real joke is that some NBC executive chose this over Coon's "Spectre of the Gun" (shot first) to kick off the third season.

    All the same, "Spock's Brain" isn't without some positives. It's one of the few episodes to use rear projection for the viewscreen, allowing the director to easily integrate its display with the actions of the characters. This leads to a nice scene where Kirk has Chekov punch up a chart of a solar system and has a discussion with his bridge crew while he stands in front of it and uses it for reference. It works from both a technical and story standpoint, giving a great visual while simultaneously offering a rare opportunity to see the crew collectively problem solving. (Maybe this is how they came up with a new hairstyle for The episode also features an original score by Fred Steiner that has portions reused throughout the remainder of the series.

    Yet the episode, with its female guest stars that add little of value and its ample padding to stretch out the story, is shoddy sci fi that's only entertaining as a guilty pleasure.

    Remastered Version: With the original effects cheaply done (except for a new ice planet sphere only seen in this episode), CBS Digital's upgrades here are a welcome treat. Apart from new shots of the Enterprise, we get a new ship for the brain thief, a more realistic planet, and a new matte painting for the beam down with the original beamdown shot composited into it. (This would be even better if the CBS team faded from the matte painting to the next shot, but instead the team simply cuts from its gorgeous planet vista to the small stage set the live action was shot on... which doesn't blend as well). Unfortunately, with all the action happening in front of the (rear projected) viewscreen, this is one of the few episodes CBS is unable to replace its contents (including previously mentioned solar system chart). Fortunately, the original effects hold up quite well.

  • Not as bad as people say

    Everyone always told me to avoid this episode cause it was "the worst" but I for one enjoyed it. The plot was good and everything made sense. The only reason you wouldn't like it is if you don't like Star Trek!
  • Cheesy good

    Mmmmmmm like grilled cheese sandwich baby.... So bad it's gooooooooooooooood. So funny I died laughing.
  • Oh the pain, the pain...

    (to borrow a line from another S.F. show's icon...)

    Caught this on the remastered run and if anything it's even worse then I remember. First up is the bad bad music cues. They beam Spock's body down to the planet, Kirk looks at in, zoom in on Spock's blank face, and... bombastic horror/music sting loud enough to rattle the windows. Cripes, the Horta didn't get this kind of musical buildup. Later when Kirk and the guys fight the Morg guards the music is equally blaring, and again there's an inexplicable cut to Spock's blank face for a "reaction" shot. Here's a hint, guys: there's no point doing reaction shots if the people you show don't have any reactions.

    I read Blish's short story adaptation and thankfully he omitted the whole remote-control windup Spock (which is noisier than the Tin Man from Oz: oil the joints, guys!). There looks like there are 10 buttons on the controller, and they keep hitting button number 1, so maybe they were rating this episode. One imagines Chapel helping McCoy perfect the mechanism.

    There's also a goofy cut to Sulu giving a supplemental log reading where he says... well, nothing we don't know already. The syndication cut even removes his finishing line about Chekov camped out on the planet.

    And of course at the end there's another god-like piece of technology that we'll never hear about again. Scotty even says he'd like a crack at it: why doesn't he or McCoy or the other 420+ crew just use it once each and dictate everything they know down. Then the Federation could be doing removals every week. Then again, we might get more episodes like this. Thankfully we were spared "Picard's Brain" in TNG. Although that's another bad thing about this episode: the title sounds like a bad 50s B-Movie. Also, if you're in the mood have a drinking game and take a shot every time they say "brain." Thankfully, you'll be passed out by the end of the episode.

    And there's cringeworthy moments like Kirk throwing himself on his knees to Kara to beg her for a chance to visit Spock. Ugh. And the unflattering torture belts. And the weird directorial touches like a camera shot through the helmet onto Kirk's face, or the dramatic frenzied-eye closeups of McCoy during the operation. Nobody does frenzied eyes like DeForest Kelley, check out "City on the Edge..." for another good example.

    Overall this definitely is a bad episode. All you can do is assume that everyone responsible for it knew it was a joke and wanted to pass that on the audience. Unfortunately, they seem a bit too sober-faced and you get the impression they really thought they had a winner on their hands. Oh well.
  • Gene L. Coon's script played straight and executed badly


    Spock's Brain was actually penned by Gene L. Coon who intended the show to be played as a comedy. Unfortunately, the season 3 producer of Classic Trek, Fred Freiberger, didn't quite like comedies and decided to play it straight...which resulted in this catastrophe. In season 3, there were few comedic scenes except at the end of an episode such as when McCoy asks Kirk if he wants to look like Vulcan officer for the rest of his captaincy in 'The Enterprise Incident' or at the end of 'The Tholian Web' when Kirk is puzzled that McCoy and Spock never consulted his emergency recordings--in case he was dead or missing (and the rest of the crew quietly laugh). These scenes usually happened after the tension in an episode was resolved, however.

    Freiberger was a 'serious' science fiction producer and even David Gerrold recognised this when he wrote or rather re-wrote'The Cloudminders'--an allegory on social inequality. By the way, in Herb Solow and Robert Justman's 1996 book 'Inside Star Trek: The Real Story', Bob Justman candidly admits that it was he who suggested that Spock speak to and guide Dr.McCoy through the brain operation. Oh well, at least he admitted that this mistake. But no one could counter Star Trek's clear decline in quality as a result of NBC's budget cutbacks in its final season.

  • Even the worst episode in TOS was better than the best episode in many others Sci-fi TV shows.

    I never really gave any Star Trek shows "1's" or "2's" because Star Trek at it's worst is better than any "best" episode of Lost in Space. Of course, Spock's Brain is teetering on Cat Women of the Moon stuff here with beautiful brainless women who capture neanderthal men and give them pleasure and pain. Plus, the ridiculous scene of Spock clearing his throat and guiding McCoy through the brain operation also teeters on making Star Trek more like TV sci-fi from the fifties. What so painful about this episode is that it's a hint how bad Star Trek may have gotten if it went on to a fourth season. Thus, the 3rd season is not as truly bad as some of have mentioned. But it does reveal a terrible direction that the series was headed. Like all Star Trek episodes, there are some diamonds in the rough here. I liked the scene with Sulu, Uhura, and Chevok all consolidating their scientific knowledge together (in Spock's absense) to determine where the alien ship may have left with Spock's Brain. I would say that Spock's strict mentoring has paid off. After all, the Federation has many starships and they just can't expect Spock to be the best science officer in the whole fleet.
  • An alien female beams aboard the ship and, after incapacitating the rest of the crew, surgically removes Spock's brain. Kirk and co. have just hours to locate and replace it before Spock's body dies. A truly terrible start to the final season...

    And so arrives the third season. The titles are now in blue instead of yellow (I never liked the blue, it felt 'cold'), the theme is slightly re-recorded again, and... err... Scotty has his hair slightly differently! That's about it. ...Except to say, the quality of stories fell dramatically in the third season. After many of the polished and thoughtful stories of the first and much of the second season, the third season saw a number of much weaker instalments. None more so than the infamously bad "Spock's Brain".

    "Spectre of the Gun" was actually the first episode to be produced for the third season, but the series seldom followed production order on broadcasts, and this episode was selected to air as the season premiere.
    Just as the second season began with the Spock-centric "Amok Time", the third begins with another Spock-based tale, seemingly to capitalise on Spock's huge fan base. But whereas "Amok Time" offered us an interesting glimpse of Spock's homeworld, "Spock's Brain" is one of the silliest and just plan bad episodes ever offered up by the Original Series.

    Leonard Nimoy has said that he really didn't like filming this episode, and William Shatner voiced similar thoughts; It's not hard to see why.
    This is often cited to be the worst episode of the series; just as 'The Next Generation' had "Shades of Grey" (terrible second season clip show), the Original Series had this.

    The whole plot device of McCoy controlling Spock's brainless body, like a robot, is one of the most ridiculous things ever seen in 'Star Trek'. It's hard to think that a series that had reached such heights with some other stories could sink to something as stupid as this.

    I confess to not fully grasping just why the alien woman tracked down Spock and stole his brain in the first place, nor the whole men-on-surface women-underground thing; by the explanation stage late in the episode, I was pretty much beyond caring.

    I hadn't watched this episode for many years until last night, when I re-watched it for this review. It was every bit as bad as I remembered!

    As I mention above, this is often cited as the worst single episode of the Original Series. It's defiantly in the Bottom 5, possibly out of the whole franchise.
  • An alien female beams aboard the Enterprise and takes Spock's Brain. Spock's body is kept alive and animated by medical technology. Kirk and company go in search of Spock's brain so they can return it to his body.

    I think most everyone agrees this is one of the worst, if not the worst ST:TOS episode. I remember watching it first run on tv and after it was over I thought, why did I sit through that? It was meaningless. On the alien world where Spock's brain was taken, we learn that the women live underground and men above ground. Ages ago their planet became hostile due to a severe world wide ice age. The men, chivalrous as they were, sent the women underground while they stayed above. Don't ask why as I don't remember and I don't care. The women while underground evolved into airheads and need Spock's brain as a living computer to explain to them how to do complicated things such as breathe and tie their shoes. Kirk and company find Spock's brain but have no idea how to put it back into his body. But there's a handy device called the Teacher which programs information into a subject. McCoy subjects himself to the device and becomes a surgical genius. Spock's brain is re-united with the body and everyone is happy. Except the women who have lost their 'Controller' as they called Spcok's brain. But Kirk explains that they will learn how to live without it and takes off. Another problem solved. I gave this episode a 3 rating instead of 1 simply because it's Star Trek and I love Star Trek. Had it been any other show I would have given it a 1. Even then it was painful to watch. And judging from the acting, the crew did too.
  • Chekov is too busy getting " com-far-ta-bool " to send down Dr. McCoy's stomach at his request

    I agree with a lot of the reviews on here. Certainly not the best one by a long shot. My favorite part is at the very very end of the episode where Spock is going off about the planet and how a "male and female skism took place" and you can see Kirk in the back round frantically trying to use the remote control to shut Spock up, but of course it doesn't work because he has his brain back.
  • This has got to be the worst episode of the original series. I love just about every episode but this one and have to feel for Leonard Nimoy.

    Nimoy didn't want to do this episode and with good reason. The plot holes are enough to drive a Buick through. McCoy seems to know just how long Spock's body will live without his brain, despite knowing nothing about the procedure and next to nothing about Vulcan physiology.

    Don't even get me started on the remote-controlled Spock with the ten-button remote! (I think the lower right button is the "wrest control from alien woman and push the red button to free your crew" control.)

    Watch it for completeness' sake, but don't judge the rest of the series for it!
  • What was the point of this episode?

    I finally got to see what seems to be unanimously considered the worst episode: "Spock's Brain." I tried to watch it with an open mind (not letting what had been said about it affect my take on it)...but I found it bad regardless. The episode had the potential to be good and interesting, but there seemed to be no point to it whatsoever. It could've been commentary on people that are complacent being stupid ("I'm not ready for the knowledge!" reminds me of too many kids who just don't care and think it's cute to be stupid), but it didn't achieve that goal. The dialogue was redundant and simplistic: in one scene, Sulu, Uhura and Kirk pretty much say the same thing---that something is "there." (I cannot remember the exact terminology...but it was repetitive.) And poor Leonard Nimoy. I read "I Am Spock" and he said how thankless his role in that episode was. And Spock seemed more pedantic than usual in the end...and dare I say it happy. Vulcans aren't supposed to show happiness (even half-Vulcan Spock who is constantly fighting that emotional human side). I believe it was because Nimoy was happy to have lines finally in the opposed to those "talking brain" voiceovers he did.